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By Elesha George

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The Senate has approved a Cabinet decision to acquire private land located in Lower Gambles, St John’s in order to construct a community centre.

Government Senator Maureen Payne-Hyman tabled the resolution to acquire 0.15 acres of private land belonging to Gilbert Gomes of Newfield. The land currently hosts the branch office for the Member of Parliament (MP) for St John’s City East, Melford Nicholas.

On April 21, 2021, Cabinet made the decision to acquire the parcel to provide residents of Bishopgate Street, Fort Road, Lower Gambles and Crown Gardens with a community centre.

The acquisition, however, is in dispute by the owner who is said to be waiting with his lawyer on information pertaining to its use.

“So, imagine his shock and amazement when last week or two weeks ago he would have heard in the media that government is seeking to acquire this land without his knowledge,” opposition Senator Shawn Nicholas uttered to the other senators.

Nicholas, who told senators that Gomez asked that his case be argued in the Senate, shared plans that the man had for his property.

She recalled that Gomez had purchased the land in 2009 and planned to construct an apartment complex. However, that same year he was approached by Ron Maginley for permission to use his property for campaign purposes.

He agreed to the arrangement, and for some time a small building which was erected on the property was used as the constituency’s branch office.

According to Nicholas, for years, the man had been trying to get the branch to pay rent for the use of his land, but had received no compensation.

“He said for some time now he has been trying to get them off the land to no avail, and he said discussions started as to how he could have a transfer of land so that the constituency branch could remain on that land, and a piece of land would be acquired elsewhere,” she remembered.

The senator recalled that there was talk of exchanging the land in Gambles for a parcel of crown land in Villa, but the land in Gambles is reportedly valued higher than the parcel in Villa, and so the offer was not seen as a fair exchange.

“In September 2020, the current MP would have received a letter from his lawyer asking him to quit because there was a small property on the land and the small property was demolished and a super structure, without his permission, was built on the said land.”

In an effort to keep the branch staff off his property, Gomes erected a fence around it, but according to the senator, the fence was removed and officials still have access to the property although no rent is being paid to the Newfield man.

Senator Nicholas argued that the Land Acquisition Act was being misused to forcibly acquire Gomes’ land, as the land was being used for a political purpose in the years prior.

“I don’t think anyone would have a problem with a community centre, but I think we know, it has not been so,” she insisted.

Payne-Hyman countered by stating, the fact the land was being used as a branch office did not mean that its purpose cannot be changed to build a community centre.

“You don’t know what plans the Cabinet has, I wasn’t part of the discussion,” she remarked, calling Nicholas’ comments “inflammatory propaganda.”

She even insinuated that the opposition senator had only brought the case forward for clout.

“As far as I’m concerned this is a legitimate resolution before this house. They have followed the law, they have quoted section three which gives them the right,” Hyman-Payne stated.

The government senator said that Gomes should follow the legal process by continuing to use his attorney, remarking that he has had more than sufficient time to take the matter to court.

“We have to accept that the Cabinet made a decision. It is made properly; everything is in order and if Mr. Gomes is of the opinion that something irregular happened, then he has options,” she finished.